Kiss of Snow Page 38

Dorian peered at the baby. “Can I hold her?”

“Don’t flirt,” Lucas said as he handed the baby to the blond sentinel, who was immediately surrounded by his mate as well as the mates of the other men. Stealing the newborn for a cuddle, the women finally handed her back to a scowling Dorian before slipping in to see Sascha. Laughter drifted out of the bedroom soon afterward.

Deciding to take advantage of the lower number of people between her and the baby, Sienna made strategic moves around the room until she ended up next to Mercy—who’d stolen Nadiya from Nate, who’d stolen her from Clay, who’d stolen her from Dorian.

“Here,” Mercy said, “you want to hold her?”

“I’m terrified.” It was the first time in her life she’d ever said that aloud.

Laughing, Mercy showed Sienna how to support the baby’s head, and then Nadiya was in her arms. “She’s so small.” Brushing aside the blanket, she looked at that miniature face, those fisted hands with their tiny fingers and miniscule nails. Lucas and Sascha’s baby had slept through the adoration, but she waved her fists now before settling back down. Sienna was fascinated, could’ve watched her for hours.

Aware, however, that everyone in the room wanted to hold the newborn, she reluctantly relinquished her to Vaughn. The jaguar sentinel touched a gentle finger to the sleeping child’s nose. “Hello, little Naya,” he said. “Aren’t you a pretty darling?”

Lucas smiled. “That’s what Sascha thought for a pet name, too.” Reaching out, he took the baby from Vaughn’s careful hands. “Come on, princess. Mama’s missing you already—you can break hearts later.”

Everyone laughed. And that was the sound Sienna remembered most as she described the events to fellow SnowDancers later that night.

“We got a message both mother and child were doing well,” Hawke said, leaning against the counter of the common room where they’d gathered, “but I figured I’d better not go down just yet.”

Sienna, sitting at a table opposite him, had to fight the urge to get up, cross the distance between them, and reinitiate the contact that had been missing for over twenty-four hours. Now that she’d touched him, kissed him, she couldn’t imagine how she’d survived before. “I think that’s a good idea,” she said. “Lucas is very close to his cat right now.” The alpha’s eyes had been those of the panther—a happy panther, but still a wild thing.

“What does the baby look like?” Brenna asked from beside her, jumpy with excitement.

“Tiny with her eyes scrunched shut.”

“Marlee looked like that, too,” Walker said when the laughter faded. “She cried as if she’d had her favorite toy stolen from her—on both the physical and psychic plane.”

Judd glanced at his brother. “She was loud.”

Sienna hadn’t known her uncles had both been around at the time of Marlee’s birth. Before she could ask about that, Brenna touched Judd’s thigh, where he sat beside her. “How do they handle childbirth in the Net, honeypie?” The last word was clearly a private joke, because Judd reached out to tap his mate’s lips, saying, “Remember the rules.”

It was Walker who answered Brenna’s question. “A strong telepath,” he said from where he sat on Sienna’s left-hand side, “will ease the mother into a near-unconscious state as he or she takes over the fetus’s mind for the duration of the labor.”

A long silence.

Sienna hadn’t known that, found herself asking, “Doesn’t it hurt the baby?”

Walker shook his head. “It’s something our race used to do before Silence—the telepaths are trained to handle developing minds. We had to come up with something since women in childbirth are unable to neutralize their pain on any level.”

Sienna believed him about the birthing process not harming the fetus—Psy cared too much about the mind to risk damaging one. “I think I heard Tammy say that Sascha was talking to her baby to convince her to come out. Wouldn’t that kind of connection be worth the pain?” Her eye caught Hawke’s at that moment, glimpsed the dark, unnamable emotion in the wolf-blue.

She knew without asking that he was thinking of his mate, of the children he would never have with her. But for the first time, Sienna didn’t turn away, didn’t yield to a ghost—she’d listened, she’d learned, so she knew that while it was harder than in a mating, changelings could and did have children in long-term, committed relationships.

Hawke’s eyes narrowed at the challenge in hers. Later, after everyone else had left the room, he snapped his fingers around her wrist, tugged her close and whispered, “You sure you want to play with the wolf, baby?”

Her stomach somersaulted, but she was ready. “Sure you’re ready to handle an X, wolf?”

Chapter 26

FOUR HOURS LATER, in a fortified compound in Southern Australia, Tatiana Rika-Smythe looked at images of the wreckage that had once been a solid marble sculpture. The cost of the piece—miniscule—was of no relevance. The destruction was a message, and as that, it hit the mark. She used the comm panel to input a call to Henry.

It wouldn’t go through to his London residence, so she traced him via the PsyNet. “You—” she began when he answered her psychic hail.

“I can’t have this conversation now, Tatiana,” he interrupted without any attempt at courtesy and disappeared back into his mind.

Tatiana wasn’t used to being brushed off, but she was also not stupid. Dropping out of the PsyNet, she brought up the feed from the spy satellite she used to get information on Henry, having increased her surveillance of him after he’d begun to act in away that suggested he had become the driving force in the Scott partnership.

A two-second delay and the visuals came into crisp focus. Henry’s London residence was collapsing. Slowly enough that she could see it had been evacuated, but there was no way to rescue it. The charges had been laid with careful precision—which begged the question of how anyone could’ve skirted Henry’s security to get that close to the building.

Certain now that there would be a third target site, she began switching through the news channels. It took her only seconds to find it. Shoshanna’s new office tower looked spectacular as glass fell in rippling blue sheets from its windows. The building was a skeleton in under a minute, its metal bones gleaming under the unforgiving desert sun.

The conclusion was clear—the Scotts had underestimated the changelings. Again.

Picking up her cell phone, she sent Henry a text message, the method of communication an indication of precisely how much she valued his mind at present. Leave me out of it.

HENRY received a call three minutes after Tatiana’s curt message.

“A miscalculation,” the male voice said. “But better now than later.”

“So,” Henry said, “you don’t plan to pull out?”


Chapter 27

“WE MIGHT HAVE given them pause,” Hawke said to Riley, Riaz, and Indigo as they stood on a cliff overlooking SnowDancer territory four days after the retaliation, “but they’ve succeeded in one respect. We’re running at high alert—how long can we keep that up before our people begin to get exhausted?”

“I have an idea about that.” Riley’s eyes swept over the clearing below, and Hawke knew he was looking out for the sentry on duty. “A soldier can maintain this pace for a week without starting to slip—we run each for five days, swap him out with a soldier from one of the other sectors.”

Right then, a wolf loped across the verdant land below and into the thick stand of firs that seemed to sprawl to the horizon. Tai, Hawke thought, identifying the large tan-colored wolf. “Can that be done without flicking up warning flags?” They could betray no hint of weakness.

“We do it in stages,” Indigo said, namesake eyes even more intense in the mountain sunlight. “Set it up so the ones closest to den territory are moved in first, those who are farther out rolling in to take their places. We do it right, no one knows any different—Psy sure as hell can’t tell one wolf from another when we’re in animal form.”

“Except for you,” Riaz muttered to Hawke. “Because you have the bad taste to be a color that yells ‘Here I am, shoot me now.’ ”

“Let’s see who’s a target when the snow falls, shall we?” Hawke turned a fraction to welcome the feral wolves loping up the rise. They wiggled between Indigo and Riley—on either side of him—to press against his legs.

“Spoiled,” Indigo said, shaking her head. “They think you’re theirs.”

Hawke let his lips curve a little. “Do the rotation. But shorten the shifts to four days spread out over a week—I want everyone rested up if we have to kick into full defensive mode. Can we work that?”

Riley and Indigo both nodded, though Indigo was the one to speak. “I think it might actually work better that way.” She growled when one of the feral wolves pushed too hard.

The wolf retreated.

“What about the cats?” Riaz asked, hunkering down to mock fight with another wolf. “Are they going to need extra manpower in the city?”

“I’ve talked to Mercy about it,” Riley said, “and we’re splitting duties unless any of you disagree. Leopards are going to focus on San Francisco while we handle the rest. We’re also aligning our sentries so rather than doubling up in some spots, we’re going to start working DarkRiver and SnowDancer land as one big territory.”

No one disagreed, and for a moment, they simply stood there, looking out over the flourishing green of the valley, the slender spires of the pines, the jagged snow-kissed peaks of the mountains. It was a beautiful piece of the earth, but more, it was their heartland, singing a song of welcome to any lost or wounded wolf.

“We fight,” Hawke said quietly. “All the way.”

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